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Planting for pleasure: Good Samaritan garden provides fresh vegetables for residents

Rev. Ray Klug, Blackduck Good Samaritan resident pollinates his tomato plants on Thursday, July 11 outside the main entrance to the Good Sam Senior Living Center. Klug began pollinating his tomatoes after noticing the lack of bees this spring season. Photo by Christen Furlong.

BLACKDUCK— Seemingly out of place next to the entrance to the Blackduck Good Samaritan Senior Living Center, sits eight tomato plants, two zucchini, three cucumber and two pepper plants.

They sit along the building's front wall on the concrete patio. Some are propped up in planters while some rest in old cooking pots or store bought pots. There are also a few rose bushes and other flowers sitting nearby to hopefully draw bees for pollination.

"We've had problems with the bees. They're just not around," Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Ray Klug said. "I know a beekeeper in Bagley who lost half his bees this year."

Good listeners

Klug is a Lutheran pastor and a resident at the Senior Living Center and, for the most part, its his garden. Everyday, he waters, feeds and even speaks to the vegetable plants.

"I talk and sing to them," Klug said. "They are a captive audience. I also pray to them."

Klug said that he read an article in a newspaper that stated how plants grow 50 times better if someone talks to the sprouts or plays music. He created a song specifically for his tomatoes and other vegetables, which was typed out on a small piece of paper he kept folded in his pocket.

"It is to the tune of 'Bless this House,'" Klug said. "I sing it to them about two or three times a day."

As credit to his methods, the tomatoes are well on their way, with inch-thick stalks and most stems grasping small tomato growths.

"There are people who look at me like I'm crazy when I speak to them," Klug said. "But I do it anyway."

But plant-human conversations aren't the only feeding sources that Klug utilizes. He also feeds his vegetables weekly doses of Miracle-Gro and waters them daily. He fills his blue painter's bucket with water and mixes in the Miracle-Gro, using a small styrofoam cup to pour each plant a measured amount of the growth-boosting feed.

"I overwatered that one," he said pointing to the smaller tomato plant in the corner. "I wasn't sure I would get it back."

Klug had watered it as often and as much as his other tomatoes, but didn't realize that the pot had no holes in the bottom and retained too much of the water. The heartfelt relief on his face was evident as if he couldn't imagine losing one of his "friends."

"They are a lot farther along than they were last year," senior housing director Roxann Roberts added. "He's been doing a great job."

Klug does all the work himself - feeding, watering and weeding - because it is difficult to prevent overwatering and overfeeding if the other residents help. But Klug and Roberts are hoping to get a project underway that could build a few planters for the patio that would get the residents outside and planting their own vegetables and flowers.

"It makes them think of home," Roberts said. "Being outside under the sun in their gardens is something they can't do here. Having something like a garden would help (residents) feel at home."

For now, its just Klug's job who also adopted the bees' role when they never showed up at his garden. "I spoke with someone who taught me how to pollinate with a paintbrush," he said. He picked up his brush and walked over to the tomatoes, gently grabbed a flowerbud and, incredibly lightly, began "painting" the yellow petals.

The tips of the bristles on his soft brush had become a soft golden color from the pollen. Klug moved from plant to plant, lightly collecting the pollen from one plant and transferring it to another.

Welcome admirers

The success of his garden draws many residents of the living center out onto the patio to enjoy the warm sun and the smell of the flowers.

A large glass table and chairs rests nearby under the shade of a large umbrella. According to Roberts, residents bring food or cool drinks outside and sit next to the garden. Some have begun a daily ritual of coming out after their midday meal to sit in the sun and enjoy the smell of the flowers.

While most of the plants are Klug's vegetables, the flowers adorning the front walk were donated by the residents themselves.

"Many of them were Mother's Day gifts," Roberts said. "Instead of having them in their rooms, the ladies donated them to the garden for more to enjoy."

Klug's focus is primarily on his tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers and peppers but additionally cares for the donated flowers in hopes that they would attract bees. In his eyes, they have failed that purpose but add to the feel and growth of his garden. He continues to pollinate himself.

Reaping the harvest

The most exciting aspect of his garden is when Klug gets to harvest his vegetables and share them with his neighbors.

"They just love fresh vegetables," he said. "There is nothing better than a fresh-picked tomato from the garden. People have already been asking for them."

Right now, the tomatoes are still small and green and likely not very tasty. But when they get to perfect ripeness, Klug will harvest his crop and bring them to the kitchen where the cooks will serve them with the afternoon meal.

They already ate some of the zucchini at their midday meal on Friday, July 11.

"Everyone gets so excited for the fresh vegetables," Roberts said. "Ray (Klug) has more plants this year and hopefully we'll get more tomatoes too."

Already this season, Klug's garden has withstood strong winds, a lack of bees, an excess of sunshine and hasn't yet succumbed to bugs. He credits the strong growth and thickness of the stalks to God.

"It's not me," he said, brushing the success of his garden off his own shoulders. "It's God who has helped them grow this well."